Editorial > Donation or Dignity ? The War Cry for India’s Self Respect - GOONJ

Donation or Dignity ? The War Cry for India’s Self Respect - GOONJ

Dais Editorial | 11/06/2021 08:30 PM

"What we do for ourselves, dies with us…. What we do for others, remains Immortal." - Albert Pine

Deb: There are very few individuals out in this world today who are sincerely passionate about people, their well-being and about serving their country and countrymen. They actually set out in the pursuit of taking measures on the ground that would improve the ecosystem in real-time.               

Today we have that wonderful individual who has been conferred upon with the Ramon Magsaysay award and many other such prestigious honours for his service to the people and for his pragmatic idealism. The man who created a dent in the traditional idea of charity, the Founder of the invaluable movement named Goonj – Mr. Anshu Gupta.

Welcome to TalkD!             

Deb: Welcome Anshu – I was personally looking forward to this conversation and to say the least we are sincerely honoured to have you here. The kind of recognition that you have received over the years – The Schwab Fellow, The Ashoka Award, The World Bank Development Marketplace Award, The Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2015 and more – how has that impacted you as a person and as a professional?            

Anshu: My straight answer is that as a person it has not affected me at all. I mean that’s something I think about myself. I don’t know how others perceive me – if they have experienced any changes but I can only talk about how I feel within myself and how I operate or behave. I remember someone telling me a couple of years ago that “Anshu, you have become very arrogant” and I just said... “You are wrong. I have not become arrogant. I am arrogant. You have only known me for a couple of years. You weren’t born with me, we weren’t at school together. Your perception is that perhaps the minute someone gets an award or is recognized, he/she becomes arrogant. So, you are coming from that perspective. You don’t know that I was born arrogant.”

At Goonj, we still have the same structure from when we were too young as an institution, when we were operating from home; and now we are operating from 20 different offices, we are almost 1000-plus people but we still celebrate the festivals the same way, enjoy Chhole-bhature, Golgappas, everything exactly in the same way. What else do you need? We still haven’t built fancy offices for ourselves, it still doesn’t happen that when we are in a larger meeting, people will sit on the floor and I will have a chair. So, I think if we maintain this – we are okay. Institution wise certainly, there must have been a lot of changes because Two things happen when you get such recognitions – One, the team feels good because your crazy ideas and initiatives which people were thus far calling you mad for, have now been recognised. And second, what I saw when the Magsaysay happened and after that even when the KBC episode happened – Trust me, KBC in India became much bigger a recognition amongst the masses because that’s where a large number of people with whom we are working, the remote villages where you have community workers and the committees are concentrated – During Magsaysay these people were distributing sweets.


Deb: Are you experiencing a change in the social responsiveness of the Generation Z or the Zillennials as compared to their predecessors? Is there a genuine transformation or is it only a matter of perspective?

Anshu: Deb, every society, every point in history has all kinds of people. Take for instance, this past one year of Covid. I am so proud of the younger generation today – right from reaching out to people with food to providing medical assistance. The young doctors serving the country at this hour – I am absolutely amazed with their enthusiasm, their risk-taking ability, their commitment and dedication towards their profession. On the other hand, for a large number of young people in the media, you feel ashamed – you feel what is this generation doing at a time when they should be feeling more responsible as an important arm of the society. These are the people who are distorting the narrative for the entire younger generation as we know it.

So far as social responsibility is concerned – yes, a large number of new institutions have come up and yes, a lot of new people have entered, yes, a lot of people are trying to go to the root cause and solve the issue at the core and there are others who want to show their good deed for an Instagram selfie – there is no dearth of people on either side. Infact, there are some people who say this kind of social media-activism is also important – They believe, “Do something and put it up on Facebook so that people are motivated. So, they give a chocolate to an underprivileged kid and put up a selfie for that” I don’t stand for that. I think people get motivated by action and not by selfies – it isn’t that if you are not putting your work up on social media and if it is not visible to anyone on Facebook, it means you haven’t done anything. There are 50 professional ‘likers’ who will like that post but that doesn’t motivate anyone to do anything.

Deb: There is a difference in what Goonj does as compared to other NGOs. With your Dignity for Work initiative, you don’t do charity, you actually have people earn the material rightfully by working for it - And THAT makes a whole lot of difference in what Goonj is. What led you here?

Anshu: One thing you have to understand is that the NGO world and the development sector is the most beautiful world in this country. People can come from large organizations and corporates and say all kinds of things but last 15 months have proved how strong the commitment of the voluntary and development sector is for the country even though some of the grassroot workers are not even drawing proper salaries. As a matter of fact, a large number of the coronavirus deaths were avoided because of the common sense and vigilance of the common man and the NGO sector in this country. This sector has a larger number of good people – all sectors have good people but this sector has a large number of them. Primarily because the main intent of getting into this sector is selfless service. Most of us had the opportunity to do something else and make something else out of our lives.

That said, dignity has not much importance in our culture. Most of the households function on “Yeh rakh do, XYZ kha legi.” And XYZ is the house-help or the person who is cooking that very meal for you.


Deb: We have been experiencing this since childhood maybe... and none of us even realized perhaps that this is such a hit to one’s dignity...

Anshu: Haan exactly. Imagine a 4-5 year old sitting. He is only learning this and carrying it forward, because this is what you taught him. And that is the reason why at Goonj, when we deal with 6000 tonnes of material every year, this too in the past 15 months has doubled, which includes a good amount of clothes, utensils, footwear etc. – one also comes across blood-soaked undergarments, used sanitary pads, dirtied tiffin boxes, footwear with only a single shoe (perhaps the logic is... “Ek pair ka toh thik hai”), large number of pyjamas with no drawstrings (that’s a typical Indian habit of taking out the naada before you give some piece of clothing out), a large number of men’s trousers and jeans without a working zip – There are double standards in the society where we live.

Last year when a large number of people moved out on roads and walked long distances to reach back home to their native places, it was the biggest proof (whether we in our arrogance accept it or not) that somewhere we are messed up in the society. It means we don’t trust the guys we choose every 4-5 years in elections; we don’t trust our employers – Fortune 500 companies or whatever does not matter, we don’t trust the next-door neighbour – we prefer to go back to our own family and blood relatives even if it means walking 800-1000 kms than staying here even for a day.

They have actually maaroed a thappad to our arrogance – it is because we never took care of their dignity. Dignity is something with which you are born. No one gives it to you. People snatch your dignity away – when you started spraying sanitizers on people on the road, when police was beating common citizens on the streets even though they were not provoking anyone in any way – you are snatching their dignity away. When you give leftover food to people – you snatch their dignity away, when you give a torn cloth to someone – you snatch their dignity away. The people who when buying sanitary napkins from a Kirana shop get them wrapped and double wrapped in paper and plastic bags – the same people give a pack of sanitary napkins to a woman on the road and take a picture with her to upload it on their social media – double standards, isn’t it? for me, I will wrap the product in double plastic, for someone else, I will expose their face on Facebook and not be ashamed of doing so.

This is not the case just with individuals - entire institutions do it – governments, NGOs, social service organizations, everyone does it – because sitting at that level, these people are just numbers to them.

That is what we realized and it came from within our own middle-class family. My mother used to keep the leftover food in the fridge- and only serve the food served to us, to our house helps - Not leftovers. My father who suffered a heart attack at an early age but was fairly active – used to get off from the rickshaw when it went over a speed-breaker to reduce the effort of the rickshaw-puller. The rickshaw-wallah often used to get angry with him because my father couldn’t catch up with the rickshaw quickly enough – but then the regular ones started understanding that this man is different from the rest.


Deb: Well, tell us about the parallel economy you are trying to build – that is not cash-based but TRASH-based. What activities of Goonj are a part of this plan?

Anshu: The simple model of Goonj is that we started challenging the language and the narrative. The moment people said that we are “donating our own clothes and donating our own material”, we challenged that thought – we said these are second-hand goods which are already used. You are not donating this material; you are discarding this. You are giving it because you don’t need it.

Look at this in this way – Will I give away my watch? Will I give away my mobile phone? Will I give away this Kurta till the time I am loving it? No, right?

So don’t say we are donating it, say you are giving it. let’s start thanking the people who are choosing to use our discarded material – because they are the keepers of our emotions, they are the keepers of our hard work that we did to earn that material. We need to be thankful to those people because they exist and they have accepted this material from us. Otherwise, this may have been lying somewhere in a landfill. Number 2, the donation mindset is that we give what we have, we don’t give what we believe is needed. But when you are working with people – you have to match the needs. If you are in North India, Chana dal is okay; if you are in South India, Toor Dal is more important. Similarly, the size, shape, culture, religion etc. changes as per different geographies. Ladies’ suits that we get from cities – are good for some regions but rural India still needs sari, blouse, and petticoats. You may say ladies’ suits can be used in the mountains but if you go to Kashmir – the suit you wear in Delhi with half-sleeves will not be acceptable there.

Thirdly, sustained charity kills people’s dignity, instant charity is fine. We thought can the village community become a stakeholder in the process? They identify their issues, they work on those issues and after a few days of their hard work, they receive this material. So, a village says- we want to dig a well or we need to build a road or a bridge – they work for it and they receive this family kit. So, the barter economy is back.


Deb: This barter economy used to be the base of ancient civilizations for so long...

Anshu: Absolutely. The money or the Ashrafis used to be the property of the kingdoms. The middle class or the financially weaker sections of those days were operating without money. There was no cash currency that they had but they were still surviving – maybe exchanging milk with rice and so on.

So now in our case, it is back in a different way. On one side, it is the urban discarded material. On the other side, is the community's hard work and resources. So, if you want to make a bamboo bridge – every family will give a bamboo and a few days of labour. That's to say that it is an alternate economy. It is a very dignified way to give – we have removed the element of ‘charity’ from it.

So, someone will say – ‘ye mera joota hai’ when he is giving. But then the one who is receiving it, has helped make a bamboo bridge so he has earned it. He will say ‘hoga tumhara joota, but I have earned it’. So, the narrative has changed.


Deb: A lot of NGOs and charitable organizations have transactionalized donations – One can just go to any website or app, pick their cause and click ‘pay’. What are your thoughts on this?

Anshu: So, see Deb, there are bad lenses of people the way they are looking at the development sector. When my team interacts with people, often they are asked – do you get a salary? What kind of a silly question is that? Funding requests for donations will come – but then they will give disclaimers like we are okay to give dal-chawal etc. but we will not take admin costs. How is my staff salary a burden to anyone – don’t they have families, don’t they need money to live, for emergencies? VANI, one of the development sector institutions, did a survey and found we have lost about 37 leaders in this sector during Covid – do we know them? No one calls us frontline workers -even though we are the risk-takers. Sitting in your homes and offices and negotiating how much will go in the kit – is great but come on the ground and work, deliver that service. This country is in a notional space – we think by creating a roti.com we can get roti. What we don’t understand is that right from the person who is growing wheat for your burger to the person who is making the bun and to the person who is delivering it to you – these are all real people, taking risks everyday who are doing a lot of work which ideally no one should have done. But because of the lapses in the system, they have to do these jobs. It is fine to raise money via these different portals because it is absolutely foolish to think that good work can happen without money. You need more and more money to reach out to a large number of people. In this kind of a disaster that we are facing today, even if you have Rs. 10 lacs, you can only support 800 or 1000 families – that too for 10 days of basic ration.

In a cyclone- especially the ones that we had recently – Tauktae and Yaas – this is a rare time when there are two simultaneous cyclones on the west and east coast of India... someone has lost their belongings for the last 2-3 generations, we give 7 kgs of ration and think this is good enough. How does this thought operate? So undoubtedly, more money is needed and with these kinds of donations – you are able to do a lot of instant work, a lot of instant support. So, I am a strong supporter of such instant donation portals – which enables a large number of people who cannot contribute themselves to the social cause by going to the villages and slums to work, to participate in whichever way they can.

Many times in fact, all people can contribute is money because their skills are not useful for the development sector. We may not need the tech skills of someone sitting in a Gurgaon – so perhaps the best way for you to contribute is to put money in the hands of those working on the ground. We can put in our hard work, community organizations can take that kind of a risk – you put in the money. You also will be able to pay back to society like this. These portals have made contributing to society easier and a large number of people with good intentions are fortunately participating in this.

Deb: So, in a simpler way, we can derive that this transactional donation or charity also has certain positives if done right...

Anshu: How do you call it transactional?

Deb: I mean, not even getting into the actual action of anything, simply scanning a QR code, paying and thinking I have done my bit of the social work...

Anshu: So that’s absolutely fine. Let’s see it like this – the bank’s job is to provide funds, to give the loan. Banks will not go and actually do the cow-rearing or crop rearing. There are separate agencies for different work – that’s how society is designed. Not everyone will go to the field. So, if there is a portal whose job is to collect money and pass it on to the ground workers – and the portal is making it easy for people to give – it is great, that is how the chain is getting completed. Consultants of large companies only advise; they never get their hands dirty – but all these roles are important in the chain.

Deb: Fair, true. Everyone has individual roles to play... So, tell me, when you first started out how did you get past the initial scepticism?

Anshu: If you see our journey for the first few years, it was fairly complicated. No one wanted to give us money – the biggest flaw also was within us. It was there and it still exists. It was very difficult for us to talk to people about money- coming from a background with middle-class values. And even people had this misconception that when they give material, they think their job is over. They don’t understand that every single piece of cloth they give us will be sorted by a paid person sitting at a paid place and it will be transported via paid transport. So, people fail to understand that there is a huge amount of logistical cost involved with every single piece of material. Today you go to the mall, the amount of money you spend on petrol, you spend on your parking- we never take that into account. Ideally the simple way of understanding this is that whenever you give away material, especially to an agency and not directly to the end beneficiary, you should calculate 10-15% of that for the logistics of it. How does a packet of rice reach 800 kms away from its original point of donation? That was the issue. But that didn’t stop us. We found our own ways of raising money – we made a lot of bamboo clocks, I also learnt carpentry in that process and we used to go to the haats, make paper bags, sell paper products – a whole lot of things like that. And that’s how the visibility started coming in. we also decided that for material – we will not use the word ‘donation’, we will not send fundraising appeals to people.

There is this concept for which a lot of people love the Social Impact Sector but hate them as well – for how long will you sell poverty to improve poverty? Kab tak nanga bhooka bacha dikhaoge? And it has become such a common thing now – if you see some of these sites which are raising material and also money and especially if you see medical cases, the kind of pictures they put up of the patients’ families – if you have a covid patient at your house – a child, a parent, a brother – you don’t even let the next-door neighbour know. When someone comes to your house, you tell the sick person in the household to go to the other room – I really don’t know how you tend to expose other people out like that? Why do we want to raise money by showing 5 different tubes and a very sad, grim, crying face of an individual in need and then raise money? The portals you are talking about – all these portals are doing this. When they are raising money for food, people are like this – pleading and begging (*folds hands*) – why are we doing this? If you want to say that there is a cause and you want people to become a part of your journey – you should be able to make them a part of your journey.

I am sure we must have made mistakes and I am sure when you work on such a large scale, there must be some wrong pictures we must have placed in error – but we are very very conscious about it, that at least at Goonj – we will never sell poverty, we will never sell those desperate pictures.

Deb: Did you experience a lack of confidence in your donors?

Anshu: I don’t know. It is not arrogance, honestly it's fine – no one is doing a service to anyone. If there is an agency like Goonj, our job is to reach the Material out to people because that’s what we decided to do for ourselves. If there are rich people and if there are so-called donor agencies, they are paid to fund – it is their full-time job. So, none of us is really doing a service to anyone. We are just doing our jobs.

Till the time, we keep our heads low and understand that this is our job, my daily bread is because of that, I am earning my livelihood because of that and I am able to fulfil my passion because of that – so I need to be thankful to the people who are giving me a chance to enter their life and do something in their villages. I think the arrogance of people with money needs to go. Now, whether they have confidence or not, we don’t know because the saddest part is that when you say you can apply for a grant and the grant is Rs. 1 lac and the form runs into 5 pages and they even want to know your grandfather’s name – you don’t understand that you are wasting the time of the people who are actually needed in the community to do the direct groundwork, instead of filling those forms which you don’t even need – you don’t even want to know those details. There are enough agencies who are completely away from this nuisance and they are such friendly institutions and they ensure that not much time is wasted in the paperwork and our friends are those people.

We prefer working with such organizations.

Whatever confidence building we do, is on the generic front. We will not go overboard to send 5 extra reports to someone, we won’t do that. That’s not us.

Deb: Anshu, what perhaps people call arrogance with you, I find humility in that. You chose to do this. That itself says enough. Doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. Well, you have a strong governing body run by well-known corporate executives including your wife, Meenakshi Gupta – the Co-Founder of Goonj. What brings brilliant minds like you to a social cause like Goonj and keeps you motivated to do this every day?

Anshu: So, one thing which I am very clear about is that I don’t think corporate governance is the best governance. Otherwise, why would a Jet Airways, a Kingfisher, an Enron happen- everyday it happens. Let’s stop giving those 5 big stars to corporate governance. In many cases that is the worst governance one could have. But they are powerful people – no one does anything to them. I think the governing body needs to be of the practitioners only and especially the people who are connected with the field, who understand this subject a little bit. Not just because they are good managers. We don’t need just good managers in our governing body, we need practitioners and we are all hooked to this work by our passion.

I mean, I left Escorts, my wife Meenakshi left BBC – she worked there for almost 8-9 years looking after Media Relations for South Asia BBC and I moved from Escorts in 1998 but I think we didn’t do any sacrifice at all. Although people keep writing about us in their articles and books – but that’s their lens, that’s not our lens. We are enjoying, we are happy and feel privileged that we had a dream and I always say that we are further lucky or happy that we have been working on our dream and I would also say that maybe we are maybe one step further luckier that our dream is in the right direction. Whether we will be able to fulfil it or not, we don’t know because everyday the dream grows bigger. So, this is just the passion, this is just the keeda as I always say here (*points towards his head*) and maybe the initial rejection also makes you a much better human being – because then you say, ke chal bhai tu keh raha hai ke kapda bohot bekaar cheez hai, kapde pe kaam nai karna, it's not a relevant subject etc. so our mission now is to make it relevant. Many times, rejection also is a big asset in our lives. I think rejection should be a constant process in everyone’s life. People should keep rejecting you and you keep learning from that.

Deb: You seem to have championed the cause of reusing old material – clothes, books, stationery – so much so even taking up the menstrual cloth provision as a key initiative under your Not Just a Piece of Cloth. How do you and your team manage the logistics of these massive tasks everyday? Because you have already mentioned that 800 kms bit…

Anshu: Deb, this is all evolved. None of us is a learned person from the logistics field. The kind of processing we do, the kind of sorting we do, the way we developed our own processes – now, perhaps we have adopted technology that too from this year. Otherwise for the last 20 years, our technology was excel sheets and Google docs. Not that we were not there, but it was very basic. Because we also understood that a large part of the area where we go and work, no matter what softwares we create, there is no internet in most of these areas and even if the internet is there, the bandwidth is not there. It can be there for the voice but not for the data. But when me and you are struggling for 4G / 5G even when we are here in Delhi and Hyderabad, you can only imagine about these areas. So, we wanted to make operations people friendly, organization friendly, and geography-friendly. Also, we have to see how much of this can be localized, how do we ensure that the trucks are used at optimum capacities and so on. One of the principles we decided at Goonj was that we wont work on targets but we will work on the potential – how much can I do, how much more can I do? Why must I fix a crazy target for myself? I can certainly do much much more than that. We also tend to fix a lot of non-negotiables for ourselves. Even if our truck is stuck for 10 days at the border, we will never take a shortcut of paying Rs. 2000 as bribe. That value system has worked for us. We also created a chain of logistics in this process – how this will be sorted, what kind of gunny bag will be used, how you will transport from a bigger city to a smaller town and from there it will be transported by a bike, cycle, boat, depending on the geography because our geographies are quite far out and diverse. One of the mottos of Goonj has also been that go to the last part and then try to come back. Instead of starting from a large metro city, a Mumbai/Delhi etc and then start spreading – we didn’t do that. You will find us in Sundarbans in Bangladesh, you will find us in Nepal borders, you will find us in Uttarakhand – literally, you will see in the milestones, a village called Manna – almost to the last point.

We have used multiple stakeholders, the strength of local communities, local institutions. In Kashmir – we work with the units of the Indian Army, in Uttarakhand we work with the BRO (Border Roads Organization), many places with the smaller institutions – so that’s how the entire logistics has worked.


Deb: Another innovation that we have heard about at Goonj - You invite people to come visit your processing centres and see what you do with the contributed material – what prompted you to come up with this method of connecting with your donor?

Anshu: We have to change the narrative. A, this is your discarded material – if there are no agencies, we wont even come to know what happens to that material. If Goonj does not exist in my life – I don’t know what will happen to this Kurta I am wearing. Infact, so many cities and areas we visit, we see how much material is lying in the dustbins – even in a country like India where you have extreme poverty and these materials can be very well utilized because there are no other channels.

The good part is big but the bad part is also not small. So, you call up and you say – please send someone to collect. So, we ask them – why should I come and collect? You have to give, you make an effort, it is your problem too, right? We are giving you a chance to get rid of your problem, lets be honest about it. You don’t like this language, but that’s the reality of the world.


Deb: You are trying to address the core thought process – if you really want to do this, actually do this...

Anshu: If you are asking me, if this will go to the right place or not... you have a genuine question. Come and see the process. When you spend 1 hour with us, when we are a couple of hundred people working, then the statement that we make is that we are not worried about you. We are not answerable to you. We are answerable to ourselves because you had something which you didn’t want, you gave it. We are the ones putting in so much hard – time, money, efforts, energy- everything, we are worried about our effort for sure, that these efforts should not go to waste. That’s why we know that it is going to the right place. We will ensure it goes to the right place.

Tell me, how many people on this earth can touch old material of people – full of sweat, full of blood, the college material, the hostel material which is not washed for a month often -all of us have stayed in hostels and we know how we live there – how many of us can dare to touch such material of someone else like this?

Deb: This actually brings me to another question... which is very relevant to recent times. Being one of the top Social Impact organizations in the country - what have the last 15 months of Covid been like for you?

Anshu:Complicated and tough for sure. Because many of us have been through the journey ourselves and it’s a scary thing. This time we also lost team members and their families. We changed the entire model of Goonj overnight because we realized the second hand material will not come, people also don’t need second-hand material, there is also fear of such material – I mean, in the villages people have all the rights to say that you are sending Covid to us. Out here you bring 1 kg of packed rice and you wash the polythene for half an hour and then keep it inside, the agencies all over the country, not only Goonj have been dealing with tonnes of material and taking a risk – that’s how many of them are infected themselves. One part is that it has been complicated, yes, because of this emotional trauma. The second part is that it has been very very satisfying, very beautiful for us because never in our lives have we imagined that the grid which is laying in the entire country of relationships, know-how, logistics etc – we will be able to use that entire grid in one go. These 15 months, we have been able to work in 27 states with almost about 550-odd organizations, almost 5 million kgs of dry ration, 2.5 lakh kgs of vegetables and fruits directly procured from the farmers and we are known for working on cloth, utensils, footwear. That’s how we as an institution realized that our exact same model may not work but every single strength associated with that model – the supply chain, the logistics, the knowledge, the partnerships – everything will work. And that’s how we were really able to scale up. We are certainly happy and we feel privileged that we are able to do something. Because a lot of people were forced to sit at home but in our case – even when we were forced to sit at home because of the disease and the lockdowns – we were operational. Most of us had 24x7 work. I remember my 26 days of Covid journey – May last year and almost thrice hospitalization after that, no one outside the institution knows about this, but the institution worked *touchwood* so well that as a so-called Founder, it gives you so much satisfaction. I remember except for 5 days in this entire journey when in Dehradun, I was hospitalized in July last year and I was completely out and I didn’t know whether I exist or not- except for those 5 days I don’t remember any day any moment when the mobiles were even a foot away from me. We were operational. I think in this era, if you sail through this, if you have bread in your plate, if you have work in your hand and if your salary is coming to your account, I think we are the truly blessed ones. All of us listening/reading/understanding, we all need to understand the blessings and we need to realize we need to be thankful to the people because of whom we exist and are alive today.

All those big things failed - the biggest possible airports, aircrafts, biggest corporate buildings – everything failed. What worked was the municipality worker, what worked is the rickshaw puller, the garbage collectors who take your kachra away every day – all those worked. The primary health care centres, the nurses, the ASHA workers, not the fanciest of those buildings. If society understands it, we will come up in a better world – if we don’t, it's fine. It's not that society changed after WWI or WWII.


Deb: Well, a quick understanding of what you have just said. All the belongings, the complete inventory that you generate of the things you receive – are you sanitizing all that at this point of time? Like a complete mass sanitization happens?

Anshu: It cannot happen. You have to open big gunny bags of rice and make smaller packets. You can sanitize the hall where you are working, you can wear a double-mask, you can sanitize your hands. You cannot sanitize the nodes where you are loading, you cannot sanitize every single area of the truck and in any case, the truck will take 7-8 days, will go through all sorts of roads so it is not possible.

Deb: Of course, the entire supply chain cannot be sanitized. But I am trying to focus towards the inventory part of it.

Anshu: We are taking full precautions, but we cannot sanitize every single unit of material. You can sanitize the atmosphere; you can sanitize the halls – all that is done. Fortunately, all those precautions are there in the last 15 months despite being the frontline people, despite being the material management people – very few people got affected with the disease at Goonj.

So, we are very cautious about distance, regulation, sanitation and maybe that is how we are able to get through this and have saved ourselves till date at least.

Deb: There is a lot of difficulty already, and the pandemic must have multiplied what you and your team are doing. One last question about you, Anshu. If Goonj wouldn’t have happened, what do you visualize yourself as to be doing today otherwise?

Anshu: I don’t know. One thing is for sure, I wouldn’t have been a corporate guy. I mean what I was doing before, that I am pretty sure I wouldn’t do. I wouldn’t have been a full-time journalist although I have studied that and to be honest, I have no regrets.

I am actually happy in fact that in this era, the way the larger part of the journalism has gone down and I am ashamed of so many of my own fraternity’s people – I am being upfront on this – I think I would have been roaming around maybe I would have been singing, if possible, which I forgot now. I would have been doing a lot of photography, freelancing maybe, a lot of crazy creative work. I don’t know what but something like that.

Deb: You have mentioned certain things that bring me to this idea that we certainly must stay connected. Do you have a quick line for the Dais Team and the viewers who would be watching this conversation between us?

Anshu: For the present era, and this is something I have been saying for years now, whether Team Dais or viewers or anyone who is here listening to this – we all have to payback now. We don’t have to give back; we have to pay back. I am perhaps repeating myself but a large number of people who have been growing food for us, because of who we are able to survive, they remained hungry and now we call them beneficiaries – the food is grown by someone, we polish that and give it back to them and call them a beneficiary although we are the constant beneficiaries of their labour. People who have been making houses for us, assembling these laptops and transmission lines, have remained homeless. They were walking on the road, not me and you. So, I think we have eaten up a huge amount of their share, their subsidies, it's time to pay back. That’s Number 1. Number 2, do remember that we actually had a big slap on our faces last March-April when people didn’t trust us and migrated back home.

We have to build a society where we have that kind of trust. The third most important part is that, for the time being, we don’t need thinkers anymore. We need doers, we need action. None of us must think that we are small or cannot do much etc. All of us are very powerful. We all have a lot of potential. Almost every initiative in the world is initiated by one person and then others join in. That also recognizes our own potential, also makes us realize that the virus has given us the opportunity to do something good. If we don’t do it now, we will never be able to do that. When society is in survival mode and you can play that role, and because of your role more people can survive; if you do not play that role – you will never be able to forgive yourself, of course if you think about it.

If you don’t think about it, your life is absolutely perfect. A lot of people are leading their lives like that, the richest of the rich are living like that, the rich in fact keep becoming richer in the pandemic as the poor man becomes financially poorer.

Deb: That was an insightful conversation indeed. Perspectives that will push all of us to think in different ways. I would take this opportunity to agree with Anshu Gupta's philosophy – "Let's stop talking about changing the world, let us first improve the world we have". My sincere gratitude and best wishes to Anshu Gupta on behalf of Team Dais and on behalf of all my countrymen whose lives, Anshu and Team Goonj have improved over the years. Keeping our fingers crossed to have more doers as he says, in this journey of improvement. Thanks, Anshu, for being with us. Wishing all the luck to Team Goonj. I am sure this conversation between us will inspire many Indians, many youngsters in the times to come. Gratitude.


A B H I S H E K    D E B  is the Founder & The Editor-in-Chief of Dais World.

The Armed forces Veteran and a DigiTech Pro, he conceptualized and stays instrumental in making Dais World the fastest becoming influential voice in the Media Tech Industry. His conversations with Industry heads and Thought Leaders bring an interesting perspective to the Dais readers and help propel novel ideas forward in this change-by-the-minute information space.

His team can be reached out at assist@dais.world for thoughts, feedback, and suggestions.

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